On Wednesday, Phenom Hoops traveled out to Burlington, North Carolina, as the Spartans of The Burlington School prepared to host Wayne Country Day School in the 2A NCISAA semi-final. Between their undeniable talent and overall success, the Chargers entered this contest with a ton of momentum. On the other side, The Burlington School has played one of the toughest schedules in North Carolina and have grown into a powerhouse after being brutally battle-tested for the last four months. Given all that, anyone who wasn’t brimming with excitement leading up to this highly anticipated matchup simply has no pulse regarding the bigger picture of North Carolina high school basketball…

Things kicked off in an incredible fashion, as Isaiah Escobar almost single-handedly allowed The Burlington School to jump out to an early lead. He scored 14 points in the first four minutes of play and outscored the opposition across the entire quarter, which turned into a 19-11 advantage for the Spartans. Following the first period, The Burlington School maintained momentum and played exclusively through their primary leaders in Jamarii Thomas and Kuluel Mading—who combined for all 17 of the Spartans’ second-quarter points. The Burlington School entered halftime in control at 36-21. After trailing by double-digits for majority of the game, Wayne Country Day began showing some resistance in the third quarter and worked to mount their comeback. Although guys like Jaden Cooper and Mike Best found offensive opportunities to trim the deficit, the Chargers still trailed 51-43 entering the final eight minutes of play. In the fourth quarter, Vante Hutcherson strung together some quality baskets, but it wasn’t enough to shift the momentum. The Burlington School secures a 79-57 victory over Wayne Country Day, advancing to face off against Northwood Temple for the state championship. 

The Burlington School:

5’11 ’21 Isaiah Escobar

The Spartans simply don’t win in such a dominant fashion without the major scoring burst from Escobar in the first quarter. Typically known for his motor, defensive prowess, and spot-up presence, he offered an entire games worth of production in the first four minutes. That being said, Escobar continued to operate within his role and make hustle plays when his shot stopped falling. He’s an exceptional role player and someone who could definitely find opportunities to contribute at the next level. Final stats: 17 points and 1 steal.

6’1 ’21 Jamarii Thomas

The UNCW signee showcased his usual amount of defense, toughness, and downhill penetration as an obvious focal point within this contest. His emphasis on making quality reads and being a pest at the point of attack largely carried Thomas’ production in the first half. However, he continued utilizing his extremely quick first step to touch the paint at will and draw fouls at a seemingly nonstop rate. Thomas also finished, hit multiple shots off the bounce, and consistently involved himself in the rebounding battle. Thomas really excelled at playing to his strengths throughout this contest. Final stats: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. 

6’9 ’21 Kuluel Mading

Since decommitting earlier this year, Mading has been on an absolute tear and arguably playing the best basketball of his high school career. This contest was a great viewing of his ability to simplify the game and maximize his presence on both ends of the floor. He blocked shots, ran the floor, kept the ball moving, and capitalized on offensive opportunities whenever necessary. Additionally, Mading continues to rebound the ball extremely well in notable matchups, including last night against one of the top rebounders in the state. Final stats: 18 points and 11 rebounds. 

Other noteworthy contributors:

6’2 ’24 Kobe George- 11 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist

6’0 ’24 Zion Walker- 6 points, 5 rebounds

6’4 ’22 Ryan Roberts- 4 rebounds, 5 assists

6’0 ’22 Shane Peterson- 3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block

Wayne Country Day:

6’2 ’21 Jaden Cooper

The Columbia signee stood out as the main driving force for the Chargers, especially after the break. Despite struggles as a team, Cooper still had an abundance of impressive, high-level flashes as a two-way leader. He’s an all-around threat with IQ, defensive prowess, and the ability to set the tone on either end of the floor. Cooper checks all the boxes and should emerge as an incredible piece for Columbia in the coming years. Final stats: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 blocks. 

Other noteworthy contributors:

6’1 ’21 Carlos Raven- 9 points, 1 assist

6’1 ’23 Jordan Cooper- 4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal

6’0 ’22 Mike Best- 13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals

6’8 ’21 Vante Hutcherson- 13 points, 3 rebounds